(All Album Reviews by Dragonflame713)
In the world of prog, Pendragon have always been one of those love 'em or hate 'em bands. Some dislike that it seems they sometimes show influence from other bands (Pink Floyd, late 70’s Genesis, and neo prog contemporaries Marillion for example) a bit too closely. Some have a dislike for Nick Barrett’s heavily accented voice. Others love the layers of symphonic keyboards by Clive Nolan and emotional guitar playing of Barrett. Some like the catchy well-crafted songwriting. One observation I have made in listening to the music of Pendragon, is that while a lot is borrowed, there isn’t a phony note anywhere. They are very sincere in everything they do…
The Masquerade Overture is considered by many Pendragon fans, to be their best work to date, and I am inclined to agree (although their most recent album Not Of This World is just as strong in my opinion.) The album begins with “The Masquerade Overture” opening the album on a symphonic note, with keyboard orchestration, piano, and a choral part sung in Italian. Following is the album’s single “As Good As Gold”. A commercial tune, turned symphonic rock epic. While certainly pop flavored, it has a very catchy chorus line, and very tasteful arrangement. “Paintbox” is highlighted by some clever lyrics. A gentle narrative style beginning, builds into a lush and melodic middle section which carries on into the final revisiting of the songs original verse.
“The Pursuit Of Excellence” is one of the weaker points of the album. It almost sounds like a traditional song, turned symphonic prog. Unfortunately Barrett’s voice struggles in this tune. “Guardians Of My Soul” is one of the strongest tracks on the album, and one in which we get to see the rhythm section of Fudge Smith and Peter Gee get to cut loose in the middle section while Barrett takes a fluid skittering solo over it all. Starting as a somber song, it builds into an enthusiastic climax. “The Shadow” is kind of a haunting and somber sounding epic, which leads into the outro, which becomes “King Of The Castle” (more on this later…)
The album’s finale is “Masters Of Illusion”, and is the epic highlight of the album. Beginning in a very Marillionish way (mostly due the “Garden Party”/”Incommunicado” type keyboard line that carries the verses), through a slightly more up tempo middle section, which builds to a powerful climax at the end…
“As the cold hail rains down on you
And your whole life flashes right before your very eyes
So it comes as no surprise, I sympathize…”
After a very poignant lyrical section (where Barrett is backed up with a female vocal section, very much like the soulful sound used in Pink Floyd songs) Barrett tears loose in a very powerful and emotional solo, in the “Comfortably Numb” vein of David Gilmour. He is playing his heart out in this, and takes this song (and album) home in a very majestic way…
But for some, this isn’t all! Want some more?
One version of this release is a 2 CD set, with CD 2 beginning with a couple of unnecessary single edits of “As Good As Gold” and “Masters Of Illusion”. After this however, “Schizo” (taken from a Pink Floyd tribute album) is excellent. Full of the soulful female backing vocals, and a slow “Learning To Fly” type riff, this song sounds like it would have fit in well on the Floyd’s Momentary Lapse Of Reason album. The final track “King Of The Castle” is taken from the end of “The Shadow” and works very well as a single song in it’s own right. It almost has the feel of “Entangled” from Genesis’ Trick Of The Tail with the ghostly keyboard parts and medieval like acoustic guitars.
Another version of the CD contains a single bonus track, a live version of “The Last Man On Earth” originally from Pendragon’s “The Window Of Life” album.
The finishing touch, is the beautifully illustrated package the CD comes in. Many are a fold out digipack version, with paintings of a medieval carnival type atmosphere. Kind of brings to mind older albums covers by Marillion, and early King Crimson. A bit like a mixture of In The Wake Of Poseidon and Lizard, blended with Fugazi.
Despite conflicting opinions about this band, I have come to realize what I like best about them is the fact they are always giving their best. Very honest, sincere, and from the heart. This in my opinion, makes them “As Good As Gold”…
This is what I call, a true masterpiece. I think that these guys are excellent. Already from the cover art you know these guys have a high quality niveau then there is some very well composed music and extremely talented musicians to carry out the tunes. The superb guitars of Nick Barret, the wondrous keys of Clive Nolan (Arena) and Fudge Smith’s excellent drumming & finally Peter Gee’s fabulous bass playing, all stirred into one great prog-brew. This fine outing plays like a prog opera: great story, great lyrics. Just listen to the intro of the title track, opening with orchestral music complete with operatic choir. Wow, great stuff (goose-bump-inducing for sure...turn up the volume!!) Then Nick Barret’s soothing voice takes over before the band rolls into the actual song. Barret has a full/fat rich guitar tone which he uses ever so often, sometimes reminding me of the great Gilmour!! Well sure, I do not think that you can mention any so-called neo prog band (Ooh..I hate that tag!!!) without mentioning whom they sound like...well who cares?? These guys are really superb!!! You owe it to yourself to get this fine prog album and examine it yourself. For there are many excellent moments for you to rejoice!! Now my copy is the somewhat limited edition, with a bonus EP containing: "As good as gold" / "Masters of illusion" / "Schizo" / "The king of the castle...part 2". Sure the normal edition is just fine (excellent!) but why not get the extended edition??! C´mon treat yourself to a goodie....and this one’s fabulous!!